One of the countries that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic is India. The South Asian country, whose 2021 population is estimated to be at 1.39 billion, had been battling the novel coronavirus continuously despite lack of hospital facilities and medical equipment.
In April and May, India had some of their worst weeks since the pandemic hit in 2020 when they recorded daily cases that were between 300,000 and 400,000. They also had to create mass cremation and burial sites as facilities couldn’t anymore cater to the amount of people that succumbed to COVID-19. (Read: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About COVID-19 in India)
And these numbers have shown the lack of healthcare facilities the country had, and reflected the poverty many families face.
In 2020, the country’s unemployment rate was at 7.1%. The number of poor living in India also doubled due to the pandemic–from 60 million, the number is now at 134 million for individuals who have a purchasing power parity of less than $2.
This alone makes it difficult for families to sustain the needs of children, including their education. So just imagine how difficult it might be right now for families who are relatively bigger in number than most. (Read: 160 Catholic Priests in India Succumb to COVID-19 in 38 Days)
Scholarships, financial aid
Seeing the struggle of families during the pandemic, a Catholic diocese in India has decided to give educational scholarships to families who have five or more children, and provide monthly allowances to them.
The fourth and subsequent children will be the ones receiving the scholarship, and a 1,500-Rupee (around $21) monthly allowance for eligible families. The diocese has yet to determine the actual number of families that are included in the program. (Read: Caritas Internationalis Launches Appeal for India as Cases Rise)
This initiative by the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Diocese of Palai in Kerala state is part of their observance of the Year of the Family of the Syro-Malabar church. “It is nothing new. We took it up again in the backdrop of the pandemic and the ongoing year of family celebrations,” said Father Joseph Kuttianikal, director of the diocese’s family apostolate body.
With this initiative, they hope to not only help families amid the pandemic, but also increase the Christian population in Kerala. Christians used to be the second largest population in the state, next to Hindus, but the number has decreased in the recent years. They are now only the third largest population in Kerala state after Hindus and Muslims.
The Catholic bishops’ conference of Kerala clarified that the initiative by the Diocese of Palai is not a plot to increase Christian population and destabilize the country. “There is no room for any controversy,” said Father M. Paul Antony, head of the Commission on Family of the bishops’ conference.
“[It] is not to raise numbers only… it is a comprehensive move to uphold family values and cherish the Catholic way of life,” added Father Paul Thelekkat of the Syro-Malabar church.